JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) – Officials in the northeast Arkansas city of Jonesboro voted to rename a street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. following months of spirited debate.
The City Council on Monday approved the ordinance to convert Commercial Drive to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
At least one vocal advocate, Sandra Combs, openly sobbed after the decision.
“Not only the black community was heard, but those who support people of color,” she said.
City spokesman Bill Campbell said he confirmed with Mayor Harold Perrin that there will be a plan established on when the physical signs will go up.
The effort to rename a city street after the slain civil rights leader began months ago when members of the Craighead County branch of the NAACP recommended renaming Johnson Avenue. But two weeks later, the council shelved the proposal until September after hearing from residents who backed the measure and those who opposed it.
Critics of the renaming noted the financial trouble that several businesses would face in changing their advertising and correspondence.
“This is a negative impact on us (business owners on Commerce Drive) and it’s a direct negative impact,” said Matt Elam, owner of Silver Moon Trailers. “It comes directly out of our pockets. I have to spend tens of thousands of dollars changing signage, changing letterheads, business cards. It’s got to be changed and that comes out of my pockets.”
But Emma Agnew, president of the Craighead County chapter of the NAACP, said that there is a bigger picture for the name change.
“For your black residents, this is about so much more than naming a street in honor of Dr. King,” Agnew said. “This is about a man who gave hope and the idea of inclusion, and that we were all created equal.”
After the public comments, Councilman Charles Frierson made a motion to waive the last two ordinance readings and the council subsequently agreed.
“I can’t believe that there is anyone who in the next two weeks or month are going to change their opinion on this matter,” Frierson said. “With all the information we’ve heard and read and understand.”
The Arkansas Department of Transportation is planning a $32.2 million expansion of Commercial Drive from a two-lane road. The project calls for turning the street into a major arterial route that will link Johnson Avenue to Interstate 555.
Construction is set for federal fiscal year 2021.
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